Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
Elmo and Wesley
By R. Peterson
It was 6:23 AM. We were working an all-night stakeout on the far end of Donkuff Road. Three days earlier, the Clabber City Police Department had received an anonymous tip of person or persons unknown jaywalking not once but at least twice on the deserted state highway. We and three other teams were working around the clock to catch the perpetrators. As senior Sergeant Inspector John Elmo, I rode shotgun, manned the two-way radio that connected us to headquarters and two backup helicopters and let my partner, Junior Patrolman Tom Wesley, do the driving.
I knew it was serious when our dispatcher Molly Hubbard’s voice broke over the dash mounted speaker. She was a hard as nails veteran with more than thirty years under her service belt. This morning she sounded ready to cry. Vicious crime coming at you on a daily basis will do that to a person! An elderly resident of Clabber City had awoken to find almost half a pound of margarine missing from her Kenmore side by side refrigerator. The woman’s nine year old granddaughter had threatened to die if her granny didn’t bake her a birthday cake! I told Wesley there wasn’t time to reverse as I turned on flashing lights and a siren and we drove right through the Farmers Insurance billboard we’d been hiding behind.
The 1969 Ford Fairlane squad car had a souped-up v-eight engine but it still wasn’t fast enough. The two helicopters working with us on the stake-out were going to beat us to the crime scene. We were coming to a place where the road narrowed just before three miles of switchbacks that dropped the highway down to the city. Bad luck seems to pick the worst possible times to show its ugly face.
A flat-bed truck driven by a farmer I knew and loaded with almost four tons of crated eggs was just entering the bottleneck. Delbert Adams is blind as a bat when it comes to rear view mirrors, and if he was listening to Tootsie Pearl on the radio he’d never hear our siren. I told Wesley to get as close as possible and I leaned out the window and shot out two of his right side tires with my service revolver.
I’ll say one thing for Delbert … he don’t give up! He fought the wheel for almost an eight of a mile, with arthritic hands and with us nudging his back bumper, before he crashed through the guard rail and plummeted into Lucifer’s Ravine. I made a note on my clipboard to ticket him for obstructing traffic and see if there were any unbroken eggs washed up on the river bank.
We sideswiped two patrol cars already on the scene, just missed a TV News van and slid sideways across the McClary’s front lawn until we were finally stopped by a picket fence enclosing a vegetable garden. Two rookies were already stringing black and yellow crime scene tape around the entire property as dozens of neighbors looked on. Captain Wolfe stood on the front porch and glared as I scraped broken pumpkin shell off my shoe. “What did you two do … stop for breakfast?” he thundered. I shook my head. There was no sense in arguing with the captain. He was in crisis mode and until this heinous crime was solved … he was going to be the Devil to work for.
He filled me in on the basic details. There was no forced entry and the alarm system had not been triggered. I stopped for a moment to gaze into the kitchen. The lock on the refrigerator appeared to be broken … but not recently. Everything else looked normal. Two words inside job flash danced in a large open area of my brain … but it was too soon. I filed away this information in a dark corner of my cranium and forgot it.
Mrs. McClary was in the living room crying and being consoled by two social workers. She looked just as I’d imagined she would, middle aged with theatre rows of hair-curlers and a large rump roast hidden somewhere near the back door under a floral pattern housecoat. “I know this is not a good time,” I apologized. “But if we’re going to get your butter back I’m going to have to know exactly what happened.”
The social workers both glared at me but they moved back so I could do an interrogation. The tall one was definitely a dyke, the short one could be straight … or her lover. I started in right after introductions. “When was the last time you saw this … margarine?”
“Yesterday afternoon …when I took a baked potato from the oven …” The words came out with a gush of tears but one of the social workers, Butche I think it was, handed her a tissue. I’d spied a tiny bread crust on the glass coffee table when I sat down and I casually slipped it to Wesley to put into an evidence bag.
“Was that the last time anyone saw … it?”
“It wasn’t an it!” The other social worker, Noreen, spat. “It had a name … Mazola!”
After a moment Mrs. McClary continued.
“No, my husband comes downstairs and checks the refrigerator every two hours during the night as always. He said he didn’t see the … Mazola … at the 4AM check but he thought it must have gotten pushed behind the crème cheese or perhaps the mustard. We live in a nice neighborhood … you don’t expect things like this to happen to people like us.
I couldn’t help but notice a framed eight by ten photo of the butter substitute proudly displayed on an end table and in another family photo on the wall. Mazola sported a shiny yellow waxed-box and looked fresh from a store. “Do you have any recent photos of Mazola Mrs. McClary?” She opened her mouth and looked aghast!
“We always meant to book a photographer,” she sobbed. “Something always came up. Frank had to work late … or junior was coming down with the sniffles.”
“That’s quite alright,” I told her. “We have a very talented sketch artist on call for situations just like this!”
“Do you think I’ll ever see my margarine again?” She looked so hopeful I was tempted to lie … but I didn’t. “It’s hard to say …” I paused looking for the right words. “Less than half a pound that’s hard to track … margarine, especially less than two sticks, is often repackaged and sold on the street … to unsuspecting buyers … sometimes from China.”
“What kind of world are we living in?” Butche stood up furiously waving her muscular arms and knocked Wesley out of his chair. The smell of the stains under her arms reminded me of a backed up sewer and her lips had an oily sheen.
I decided to focus on other things.
“Where is your husband and your … son?” I asked Mrs. McClary.
“Frank is upstairs in bed … bad heart you know. Billy is in his … room … probably playing video games. When I was his age I was outside riding my bike … running errands … going to the store for my mother.” Mrs. McClary suddenly broke into hysterical fits of sobbing.
“You self-serving beast!” Butche shouted at me. “Don’t you think Edith has gone through enough?”
“I don’t understand,” I stammered.
“What do mothers send their bicycle riding children to the store for?” she was looking at me like I had the brain of a lobster. “For bread, milk … and yes … margarine!” She slammed her fist so hard on the coffee table my clipboard stood up and tried to run.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t mean to be insensitive!”
I waited until Edith had collected herself. “Would it be possible for me to speak to your husband and your son?”
“I don’t see what good that would do,” Edith moaned.
“Strictly routine,” I told her. “Sometimes people remember things that others don’t.”
Frank McClary was no surprise. He looked half-weasel with a long nose sharp enough to pick safety deposit locks … and legs that could become brooms if you only had the straw. Frank was content to let his wife do all the talking and limited his speech to yes, um huh and that’s right as beady black eyes darted about the room. He looked starved as he wiped his fingers on his pants and I soon forgot about him.
The stairs groaned in misery when Billy forced himself down them. He was wearing extra-large sweat pants that were bubbled and bursting at the seams and a huge, stained T-shirt from a potato chip company that looked as if it could do double duty as the main sail on an eighteenth-century British man of war. He had at least two acres of pimple marshland on the left side of his face and a forest of stubble growing on the other. He opened his mouth and a river of droll flowed down all six chins and pooled at the bottom of the stairs. I turned to see what King Kong was gaping at and caught a frantic Wesley trying to hide the plastic evidence bag containing the lone bread crumb behind his back.
“This better be good,” the monster ape said licking his lips. “I don’t go AFK without a reward!”
Getting information out of Billy was like trying to pull teeth from a crocodile. It was hard because you didn’t want to get too close. Noreen was suddenly as giddy as a school girl … trying her best to be noticed by the big-boned youngster. I borrowed a cigarette from Wesley. He rolls his own and never seems to run out of smoke. I stared at the social worker for almost an hour. Somewhere Australian music was having a walk-about on a radio … The Seekers Georgy Girl! I guess I was wrong about her … love is sometimes insanity driving a stolen, pink Buick with a ceramic dog barking in the trunk. It was getting hard to count all the colors.
When the sketch artist arrived, I went out back to look around and get some air. I tripped on crime scene tape. There was the usual broken and rusted appliances on the ragged lawn … a tricycle with bent wheels … I bet I knew who that belonged to. The helicopters were both in the air … already starting the largest search in Clabber City history. A bearded goat stared from behind a clump of raspberry bush. And something else … something that made my nose twitch and my stomach growl … the smell of baking bread … coming from a neighbor’s house.
TO BE CONTINUED ….